Leaders at Pace University went the extra mile to bring students back to campus safely, with a bit of fun to boost student engagement.

How we built campus affinity and student engagement during COVID

Faculty and staff at Pace University went the extra mile to bring students back to campus safely--with a bit of fun

I can almost hear our collective sigh of relief as vaccinations roll out across the country and plans take shape for safe return to campus for the upcoming summer and fall semesters. At Pace University, where I serve as assistant director of marketing and account management working from our New York City campus, this eventful past year had been a challenging yet rewarding one.

When COVID-19 spiked last fall, our 13,000-strong student body emerged relatively unscathed, registering just 10 cases on both our New York City and Westchester campuses in New York. When College Magazine ranked us 4th in their list of “Top 10 Colleges Deserving Recognition for their Response to COVID-19,” peers from other universities reached out eager to learn and exchange best practices for their respective campus.

This article shares what our team at Pace did to bring students back safely. As we developed and strengthened a communication plan and protocols for being on campus, we also took one more step! We created innovative content and campaign solutions across multiple channels to build student engagement and campus affinity while also reinforcing important safety messages.

Through several layered campaigns, we strived to create the most “normal” experience possible and to communicate safety non-compliance without students feeling surveilled or punished. Most importantly, we kept attention and garnered their engagement week after week.

Known as a school that provides a transformative education for its diverse students — academically, professionally, and socioeconomically – Pace has also invested in student engagement services through our partnership with higher ed managed services specialist Apogee. Since 2011, and with the advent of COVID-19, we committed to doubling-down on leveraging managed content creation, social media curation, and digital signage support with four major goals in mind:

  • Keep students connected with their peers throughout COVID-19
  • Encourage students to wear masks, and abide by all safety protocols, at all times, on campus
  • Drive organic social media conversations among students
  • Encourage use of the #OurSafePace hashtag.

Our University Relations Department, Enrollment team, and Apogee, worked together to tailor campaign content, messaging and digital channels to not only address the challenges and meet the goals, but to also resonate and reach Pace’s diverse community.

Put your best face (covering) forward! 

The first part of the campaign was the #OurSafePace Face Covering Competition. A six-week long photo and video competition, it was designed to encourage students to wear face coverings and share their photos on Instagram using #OurSafePace. The challenge: put your best face (covering) forward! 

Students voted on winners based on weekly themes. Students campaigned by sharing their photos and encouraging peers to vote for them.

The marketing team created a contest page, marketing curated submissions to abide by content guidelines, and received weekly vote counts through consolidated spreadsheet data. Each week’s winner received a $100 Amazon gift card from Pace and a random winner received a $50 gift card from Pace’s partner Apogee.

Student Engagement was High

The data tells the success story of student engagement: 67,515 votes on student photos!

Retaining students’ attention week to week was not a problem. Student feedback on the campaign gave the face coverings contest high marks and reported that it helped them feel more connected to campus during this trying time.

“The mask campaign was great! I especially loved the different themed weeks. What a great way to make online school feel more like in-person and to create a unifying sense of community among students. I feel that this campaign worked well because it was interesting, fun, and so easy to submit pictures!” said Clarissa McElroy, Pace Class of 2021.

Digital Signage Too!

In addition to the face coverings contest, the #OurSafePace campaign also included sharing COVID-19 and safety messaging posts as well as a series of #OurSafePace videos on the digital signage screens on our two campuses—in New York City and Westchester County.

Take a Page from the Pace Playbook

In today’s climate, colleges and universities face daunting challenges in the quest to build campus community and encourage campus safety. Compelling content and campaign solutions work for us at Pace — I hope they may spark ideas for your campus too!

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